As large part of the discussion around sustainability has been the questioning of the frenetic pace of creation and production the calendar of the fashion imposes, determining the true impact of fashion shows and fashion week came into conversation. While seeing the effects of decreased air travel and in-person events, many studies were conducted to better understand these impacts. Simultaneously, digitalizing fashion to replace physical shows altogether appeared to be the next big step in the industry. But who said that digital is sustainable?

As things shift back to “normal”, digital fashion has been integrated as an additional way to increase visibility by adapting to a hybrid between digital and physical. Of course, the belief that these digital alternatives could be the sustainable solution to greatly reducing CO2 emissions makes sense. However, the digital impact is something to keep in mind as well. Digital does not mean sustainable.

Christopher Kane AW22 digital runway.

Before Covid, shows would host an average of 600 guests; now these shows have been redesigned to be viewed worldwide. In September 2020, FNL Network reported that 33 million people had tuned in to the debut of International Digital Fashion Week. Leading us to question how the digital footprint compares to the physical.

That same year, Helsinki fashion week reported the carbon footprint to have dropped from 137 kg to 0.66 kg per visitor after switching to a fully digital fashion week. However, they found that the overall carbon footprint of the week was in fact higher in comparison to the previous years due to the increased use of technology. Although these figures indicate some repercussions from digital, it is important to not devalue the gravity of physical fashion weeks.

In a study done by in association with Carbon Trust, they aimed to better understand the carbon cost of travel that designers and buyers contribute during the “big four” fashion weeks (New York, London, Paris and Milan). In conclusion, the study found that the total emissions per year were 241,000 CO2e which is equivalent to lighting the Eiffel Tower for 3,060 years.

However, this study solely focuses on buyers and designers and does not take into account others attending fashion weeks such as models, media, influencers and staff and does not calculate how the rest of fashion weeks worldwide contribute either. While this research gives a glimpse at the effects that certain components of these shows and weeks have, they are still a work in progress in understanding the overall impact.

Doublet FW22 digital runway.

Fashion weeks and fashion shows have no global standards set in place to calculate and create uniform guidelines to follow. Raising awareness is simply insufficient in this matter, and clearly outlined solutions are needed. Some cities have begun creating ways to begin integrating their own solutions.

In Paris, The Fédération de la Haute Couture et de la Mode created a tool to measure the environmental, social and economic impact of these shows by using 11 different themes of measurement ranging from digital communication and material waste to travel and accommodation. The goal is for this tool to provide a standard of transparency. However, there are no legal obligations behind this.

One city where the standard is set to become compulsory is Copenhagen. Starting in January 2023, any brand wishing to participate in CFW will have to submit an application to attend and meet at least 17 minimum requirements in the categories of strategic direction, design, smart material choices, working conditions, consumer engagement and shows. Though these practices are yet to be rolled out, they are a pivotal step in the right direction.

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Fashion weeks’ carbon footprint